The generosity of God

Epiphany 2 – 2010
John 2:1- 11
Marian Free

In the name of God whose generosity knows no bounds. Amen.

Many of you will have read the book The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. It is basically a detective story in which the author has used a few obscure and not so obscure details from Christian scholarship to create a conspiracy theory in relation to Jesus and to the church. When it was first published, the novel caused a deal of fuss, especially among some Christians who found the story offensive – they having made the mistake of confusing fantasy with fact and literary license with scholarship. As it happens, the so-called ‘facts’ which Brown adapted to his purpose contained no surprises for any who had kept abreast of  biblical scholarship or who knew something of church history.

The conjecture which was most designed to shock was the possible – if unlikely – scenario that Jesus had married and had had children. In the context of Brown’s story, the truth of this would throw into chaos the Christians faith and the church which proclaims that faith, for, if it were true, the story argues, it would somehow undermine the belief that Jesus is God. In the novel, the church knows Jesus’ marriage to be a fact, and so will go to any lengths to prevent the secret from getting out and thereby destroying its credibility.

My faith is based on other things than Jesus’ marital status, but I can understand that many people would be disturbed by the notion that Jesus might have been married. However, it is important to note is that Brown was not writing a text book. Brown was using biblical scholarship – albeit loosely – in order to develop a mystery novel and to create tension. He is anything but innovative. For example, numerous scholars have speculated on the nature of the relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus. They base their speculation on such facts as can be found in early Christian texts.

In John’s gospel, Mary is the first at the tomb and when Jesus speaks her name, she goes to hold him, indicating a closeness not usually found between an unrelated Jewish woman and a man. The Gospel of Philip – which is not included in the canon – states: “And the companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene. But Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on the mouth. The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval. They said to him Why do you love her more than all of us?” Furthermore early documents, including our gospels, indicate that there was a tension between Mary Magdalene and Peter in the early days of the church suggesting that Mary played a leadership role – perhaps as a result of her closeness to Jesus.

Perhaps the greatest cause for speculation is today’s gospel. We don’t often think to ask questions about the text, but if you think about it, it is curious that Mary (the mother of Jesus) should be so interested in the amount of wine, and that she should be in such a position of authority at the wedding, that she could tell the steward what to do. For this reason, some scholars have argued that such a scenario would only be possible if Mary were the householder and if this were Jesus’ own wedding. If it is Jesus’ wedding, then who did Jesus marry? On the basis of the evidence already mentioned, Jesus’ wife could have been Mary Magdalene.

Of course, all of this is only conjecture. The gospel itself implies that Jesus and the bridegroom are different people and there are, of course, other possible explanations for Mary’s significant role in the account. While we are told that Jesus and the disciples were invited, Mary is simply said to be there as if by right. This suggests that the wedding is that of a family member or at least of close family friends. Mary’s interest in the proceedings may stem from her relationship to, or friendship with, the family, in much the same way that close friends and family today will make themselves useful at any social function.

Interestingly, up until now, Mary has had no role in John‘s gospel  – there is no birth narrative in John. Barraclough suggests that at the wedding at Cana opens the way for Mary (Jesus’ mother) to enter the story and to exercise authority. (That Jesus’ mother has a significant role in the Johannine community is affirmed at the crucifixion where Jesus commands John to regard her as his – John’s – mother.) Mary exercises her authority in three ways. In the first instance, she notices that the wine is running out and takes the initiative in informing Jesus. Secondly, she exercises authority over the stewards by telling them to do whatever Jesus asks them to do. Lastly, in a culture in which honour and shame play an important role, Mary exercises pastoral authority in preventing a situation which would cause the hosts considerable embarrassment and loss of face. Mary’s authority is further evidenced in her recognition of Jesus’ ability to perform a miracle – something which Jesus has not demonstrated until now.

Jesus’ use of the expression “woman” rather than “mother” in addressing her is not intended to be as abrupt and disrespectful as it appears in the English. Mary certainly doesn’t take offense – she simply defers to his authority by telling the stewards to take notice of him. Jesus’ use of “woman” may be a way of indicating a new relationship between himself and his mother. From now on their roles will be reversed. Jesus is no longer a child. He will no longer defer to his mother, but she to him. Further, as the use of “woman” elsewhere in the gospel informs us – particularly in the account of the woman at the well, the relationship between Jesus and is mother is now defined as that of teacher and disciple rather than as mother and child. In this story then, Mary is thus identified as one having the authority of a disciple.

Unfortunately, we cannot go back in time and be a fly on the wall. We cannot tell who is getting married or what really is going on between Mary and the stewards, Jesus and his mother.

One thing we can tell for certain is the extent of the miracle. Each of the stone jars held between 20 – 30 gallons of water that is, between 75 to 125 litres. That translates to something like 600 to 1000 bottles of the best wine in today’s language. As with the feeding of the 5,000 Jesus has provided more than enough.  Through this miracle, Jesus reveals that the nature of God is to give and to give abundantly. In the face of such overwhelming generosity, we cannot help but know ourselves loved and cherished by the Creator of all things.

Knowing ourselves loved, we should extend that love to others. Knowing that we are cherished we in our turn should value those around us. Understanding the boundless generosity of God, we should find it in our hearts to demonstrate such generosity in our own lives.

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